The faint ray of light at the end of the dark tunnel, to my amazement, was actually a splinter of sunshine, instead of an oncoming train. Are things actually getting better? My conversations with customers who happen to be realtors, also tell me there has been more favorable activity in their field recently.
There was a general census taken randomly in a U.S. jewelry trade website last week, asking individual store owners how business was this past holiday shopping season. We shop owners need some signs of reassurance in order to plan for the future. Are we to continue hunkering down in the trenches, keeping our heads and our expenses down, or climb out slowly and strategically restock to satisfy demand? It’s expensive decision that could lead any retail store to success or failure. The nationwide survey was bitter-sweet, and to me, the message was whatever the individual reader made of it.
Many stores claimed it was their best season in years. Others claimed their worst ever. Still others saw some improvement and some found no change at all. Talk about mixed signals! I’d be better off flipping a coin. I committed myself to some major paradigm moves over the summer to induce change and hopefully improve what to me had become the same old, same old.
A new location, a new look, new merchandise and a new perspective on how to do business in Paradise, U.S.A. As I expected, holiday shopping on the island was off to a slow start just like the three years past. My wife and I made plans months ago to spend Christmas and New Year’s with family in Europe. So I worked the bench like a mad man from Black Friday until I completed all my custom holiday orders, in order to depart on the 22nd of December.
Reports from the new store during the last few days of shopping were favorable. Besides enjoying the holiday festivities that can only be found in Europe, it’s impossible not to get in the Christmas spirit. We also found time to visit shopping malls in both Germany and France.
Europe is experiencing the mildest winter in decades which I’m sure is a favorable factor for shopping. The malls were packed. Jewelry stores were full of buyers, not shoppers. I thought the EU’s economy was supposed to be in worse shape than the U.S.? You would never know it from what I have seen there. In Paris, we witnessed a crowd (tourists?) waiting in line while the cold rain poured down on them, just to gain entrance to Louis Vuitton.
Watches and silver jewelry appeared to be the choice gifts in Europe. I found the shopping frenzy astounding between Christmas and New Year’s. There must be something in the drinking water over there! It so reminded me of how it was in my line of work in Boston many years ago. When business was good, it was very good, gold was cheap, around $250.00 an ounce compared to nearly $2000.00 today. Even diamonds were affordable to nearly everyone.
Back then, the holiday shopping season began for me even before Thanksgiving and lasted until darn near midnight, Christmas Eve. The incoming orders were overwhelming. (I would compare it to drinking water from a fire hose!) It required working late nights and weekends. I hardly remember a Christmas morning that I didn’t feel like I had the stuffing kicked out of me rendering me almost comatose, not much time to be infused with the holiday spirit. I can’t say I enjoyed working like that but in that decade and environment it was required because the following months could be a bit lean. In those days Valentine’s Day didn’t require a gift of jewelry. Candy and flowers did the trick.
So what does the future hold for jewelers in 2012? As a whole I can’t answer, but I know what I’m doing! When I returned to the island last week, to my surprise I had more sales of gold jewelry than expected, not the heavy stuff but lighter weight pieces such as earrings and rings sold extremely well. We sold diamond pieces such as earring studs and pendants which was a tough sell these past years. I talked to friends in the business around the Boston area and their diamond sales were slim to next to non-existent.
A bizarre worldwide thing in December, the spot price of gold actually went down more than $200.00 during the so called shopping peak. I have been in this business for decades and never have I seen the price drop during the holiday season. It always spiked upward…why not this year? To further add to the mystery, the spot price of platinum is less than gold right now. Another oddity to ponder.
It is a fact that platinum is harder to mine, is far more scarce than gold and it has always been the more expensive precious metal. Why it costs less defies logic. Another little known fact is that last year the price of diamonds steadily increased despite a crummy economy. Things are so topsy-turvy, that normal business barometers you could rely on for fifty years are useless. I have more faith in a Calusa Indian rain dance or tea leaf reading.
When gold got too expensive most of us, some reluctantly, moved to alternative metals and materials such as silver, stainless steel, titanium, bronze, pewter, even leather, wood, rubber and ceramic. My stores are no exception. You’ve got to sell something to stay in the game.
2012 will be no less challenging and the strategy I implemented late last summer for “keeping it real” so to say, has worked well so far, though it required a 360 degree radical change from what I was accustomed to. Three old business rules prevailed… location, location, location.
Change is good but sometimes it also requires a kick in the proverbial derrière to implement. So, I made the leap of faith and when the dust settled and the paint dried, change happened. A wonderful thing happened when we re-opened, just days after Labor Day. In our brand new store, in a new location, a flood of new customers appeared along with clientele we hadn’t seen for a while. It was for me like a Renaissance (and I will admit a bit overwhelming for a couple of months!) Where there was the darkness of uncertainty there is now light.
I’m optimistic this will be a great season all through this year….my fortune teller told me so!
“The balance (scale) distinguisheth not between gold and lead.” George Herbert (1593-1633)
Richard Alan is a designer/master goldsmith and owner of The Harbor Goldsmith @ Island Plaza and welcomes your questions about “All That Glitters” at 239.394.9275 or firstname.lastname@example.org